MOST people in the North of Ireland will no longer be able to access a free PCR test from April 22, the Health Minister has said.
Lateral flow tests (LFTs) will continue to be free, but only for people displaying Covid-19 symptoms and this policy continues to be reviewed.
Routine contact tracing is also set to be phased out between the middle of April and the end of June.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the changes reflected the “new realities of the pandemic”.
“The risk posed by the virus at the present time does not justify testing and isolating large swathes of the population at the levels that we have seen to date in the past two years,” he added.
“Test and trace will continue to have a key role and will be used in a more focused and targeted way to support and protect our most vulnerable.”
PCR testing will only be available to people who have “clinical reasons” for needing it.
Under the North’s new rules:
PCR testing will not be available to the majority of symptomatic people, but will be available for people for whom it is recommended for clinical reasons
Public Covid-19 testing sites will close – local health trusts will continue to provide PCR testing for clinical care
People with symptoms will be advised to use LFTs and this advice will remain in place up until the end of June, with constant review
Routine asymptomatic testing will still be recommended for people in care settings including hospitals and care homes
Asymptomatic LFT testing for the wider population will cease. Access to free LFTs for this purpose will cease.
Routine asymptomatic testing will end in most educational settings at the Easter break
Testing for people without symptoms in special schools will continue after Easter and will be kept under review, possibly continuing until the end of June
Contact tracing for the majority of the population will be phased out between the middle of April and end of June
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan said it showed Northern Ireland was “moving into a different phase of the pandemic”.
She also added that whether people would have to pay for LFTs in future was not something that had been decided upon.
“It could be a potential scenario but we haven’t worked through that as yet,” she said.
“We will be seeking funding for the testing programme that we’re continuing, but these changes are being advised on the basis of the public health risk assessment at this point in time.
“We now have a very highly-vaccinated population, we have new and novel treatments that people are accessing every day and we also have a lot of people who have developed natural immunity, so it’s right now that we move to a much more targeted approach to our testing and our tracing.”Tags: